In this psychologically perceptive debut, a young couple struggles with the realities of nonmonogamy.
Kathryn and Chris are “the perfect couple”—all their friends think so. And when Chris starts to harbor feelings for his friend Emily, Kathryn encourages him to act. As the novel moves through their yearlong experiment, alternating narratives paint a tender emotional conflict between two lovers at war with their own happiness. Peterson’s deft portrait of their relationship takes unexpected turns: there’s the communal household that offers Kathryn a glimpse of a different life; the unlikely, but sweet, friendship that develops between Emily and Kathryn; and the rich offering of Chris’ emotional inner workings, by turns myopic and generous. At times Peterson risks pathologizing Kathryn, who suffered a psychologically abusive childhood that leaves her vulnerable. Still, Peterson’s commitment to exploring the idea of monogamy is refreshingly attuned to the shifting power dynamics between two—then three—players. And if Emily doesn’t completely click into full view until the end of the novel, it may be because she started as a kind of Manic Pixie Dream Girl in Chris’ imagination. “You’re making her too mysterious,” Kathryn points out in exasperation. Ironically, it’s Chris’ emotional weaknesses that help buoy Kathryn, who comes out of the affair stronger, more rooted, more open—and with a new family to boot.
A crisp, exciting exploration of love, friendship, and everything in between. Peterson’s one to watch.